Living on the Earth, March 3, 2000, Let's Stop Complaining!
The big news last Monday was that gasoline in this country reached its
highest average price ever, $1.47 per gallon. Although much was made of
this historic high price, we should realize how ridiculously cheap gasoline
actually is here and how destructive our gluttonous individual and societal
addiction to it is. Americans are really quite spoiled.
Gasoline's an amazing, energy-filled substance, the product of an immense
infrastructure which reaches from wells deep into a desert half-way around
the world, through exotic-organism-spreading super tankers, subsidized
ports and sprawling refineries, to underground tanks leaking MTBE into
water supplies and tail pipes spewing a toxic mix into the air we breathe.
At every stage, energy use and pollution abound.
One gallon of gasoline, which powers an SUV for about twenty minutes,
contains energy equal what a human being gets from ten day's worth of
nutritious meals. That makes us at least 700 times as efficient at using
energy as one of these gas-guzzling vehicles. And, gasoline's price
represents a mere 10 to 30 percent of the cost of owning and operating an
Our addiction to gasoline is especially destructive because its external
costs are so high. These costs (which are not included in the pump price)
are paid for with our taxes and with increasing environment damage and
climate instability. External costs include: corporate tax benefits,
local air pollution, urban sprawl, a large and unknown variety of
abnormally strong, climate-related events including floods, hurricanes,
cyclones, heat waves, droughts and the spread of exotic diseases, as well
as the defense of the Persian Gulf (estimated ten years ago to cost half a
trillion dollars annually; that's over $2000 per US citizen every year).
Considering all this, gasoline's cost per gallon is ridiculously low! It
is less than that of milk, most bottled water, soda, or even one cup of
cappuccino. Last summer, in Europe, we paid about $5 a gallon for
gasoline, probably much closer to its true cost. At $55 a fill-up, we were
amazed. Meanwhile, at Connecticut movie theaters, bottled water costs
between $12 and $15 a gallon. Humans lived for hundreds of millennia
without gasoline. We can't live for more than a few days without water.
The lower the price of gasoline, the more we use it and the more the
external costs add up. Americans, who make up less than five percent of the
world's population, own over 33 percent of the Earth's cars. Compared to
1950, the planet now has twice as many people and ten times as many
Like drug pushers, the petroleum industry, especially the multinational oil
companies and OPEC, have a self-serving interest in keeping the world
addicted to their product. They want the price to be just below the
breaking point- the price at which we seriously consider ending our
addiction and turning to more environmentally benign ways of satisfying our
energy needs. These include walking, driving less, using more efficient
trains, buses and cars or even getting vegetables from our back yards
instead of from Mexico or California via a supermarket.
Connecticut Governor John Rowland, however, wants to encourage our
destructive addiction. He plans to lower gasoline taxes and raise the
price of bus rides.
The problems resulting from our gluttonous gasoline use are real and
growing. Since neither government nor industry shows any signs of doing
anything about them, it is up to individuals and communities to stop
complaining and find ways to use less gasoline energy.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays "Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future" is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $10 postpaid or from Amazon.com.
Now in its tenth year, "Living on the Earth" airs at 6:53 Friday mornings
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(C)2000, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
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